Judges have ‘great deal of discretion’ in allowing cameras to roll in court

There are no guarantees when it comes to letting a camera roll inside a Washington state court.

I had mentioned on an earlier blog that most every time I’d been in our local courts and requests to film — generally made by the TV news networks — had almost always been granted.

At times, a judge will ask the TV stations to “pool” their filming, which is a way of saying that one camera would be allowed in court and that station would have to share its footage with others seeking it.

A “John Doe” had commented on the previous blog that he doubted courts would be so open to filming. So I decided to go to a judge to get some answers.

In short, judges can be choosy about who they allow to film — and they can say no for various reasons, reports Bremerton Municipal Court Judge James Docter.

Here’s Judge Docter’s take:

“There is a court rule that addresses filming court hearings. It is GR-16. The rule specifically addresses media filming, rather than filming by the public. There are many articles and some cases on the subject of filming in the courtroom, but most of them relate to the media. So the subject you raise is not clear cut.

Generally, a member of the public would need court permission before filming. The judge has a great deal of discretion when deciding whether to grant a request to film, and would need information about the request. In particular, we would want to know what is the purpose for the filming, and to whom will it be published? We would prohibit any filming intended to embarass, harass, intimidate, threaten, torment or humiliate or unreasonably expose others. We would want to know who is going to be filmed, and we would allow them a chance to object. We would need to make sure the filming did not disrupt the court proceedings. I doubt we would allow it “just for the fun of it”. Perhaps if it were for a school project or a documentary we might allow it.

Filming might be justified for certain purposes, so the judge would review the request on a case by case basis, after hearing from those involved. Then the judge would make a ruling, and either allow it or prohibit it. So long as there is a good basis for his/her ruling, I’m confident the judge’s decision would be upheld by the higher court(s).”

Judge Docter has served as Bremerton’s judge since 1997. 

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